VMWare: Time to Pay the Open Source Piper

VMWare: Time to Pay the Open Source Piper

Summary: It would not be an exaggeration to say that yesterday was a very bad day for VMWare.My friend and fellow tech blogger colleague at ComputerWorld, Steven J Vaughn-Nichols, thinks the company will be down for the count when they take their next hit, that essentially, the company should be treated like the walking dead.


It would not be an exaggeration to say that yesterday was a very bad day for VMWare.

My friend and fellow tech blogger colleague at ComputerWorld, Steven J Vaughn-Nichols, thinks the company will be down for the count when they take their next hit, that essentially, the company should be treated like the walking dead. As he sees it, Open Source hypervisors and Microsoft's Hyper-V will sweep away the market share of their overpriced ESX Server bread and butter product, and the company will quickly become a has-been.

I'm not entirely sure I agree with his point of view. Yes, VMWare needs to take corrective action. Yes, Hyper-V, Xen, KVM and containerized solutions  will present huge challenges for VMWare's expensive product when comparable virtualization services are free or baked into existing OSes.  VMWare still has a technological lead over the competition in terms of raw feature set, but these gaps are quickly narrowing if you consider the value added services for these no-frills hypervisors being created by companies like Novell/Platespin, Red Hat, Qumranet, Citrix and Sun. VMWare needs to interpret these trends and yesterday's wake up call as a warning sign, a portent of what could happen to the company if it continues on its existing arrogant and non-competitive path.

I believe what VMWare had yesterday could only be described as a "Come to Jesus" moment -- a sign that if they ignore changes in the industry and maintain their arrogance, that they will in fact be staring at their own gravestone.

What changes does the company need to make?  So far, they ain't doing so good with the ones they've already put in place -- they've switched out their President and CEO and ejected the company's founder, a practice that never sits well with me.  That being said, Paul Maritz knows how to run technologically sophisticated companies -- a 14 year veteran of Microsoft, he was head of its Platforms Strategy and Development group before he left the software giant in 2000.

Not all of you may remember that Maritz was called upon the stand in 1999 as a expert witness in the landmark Microsoft vs. DOJ antitrust trial, where he was examined by Microsoft's defense attorney, John Warden, as a means of  pointing out that Microsoft indeed had competition in the form of Linux and other alternative operating systems.

Warden: Mr. Maritz, if you'll turn to the second page of the article, there is a statement attributed to Mr. O'Reilly there, of O'Reilly and Associates, which reads, "Open Source has already radically changed the computer industry. In the first round, Open Source software will not beat Microsoft at its own game. What it is doing is changing the nature of the game."

Now, is that statement consistent with points you've made in your testimony?

Maritz: It is, Mr. Warden. As I pointed out, this is one of the key changes that we've seen in the software industry over the last year or so. And it really is a major factor that we all have to take into account, that there is this source of fairly sophisticated, high-quality software that is being developed by the open-source movement.

And it further puts pressure on ourselves and other manufacturers of software or developers of software to continue to innovate and make sure that we're offering our customers value for money.

Maritz could observe this trend way back in 1999, and he saw the writing on the wall, this despite the fact that Linux and Open Source software was not even close to being mainstream at the time. In 2000, he left Microsoft to form his own company, Pi Corporation, which was acquired by EMC in February of 2008.

I certainly hope that Paul Maritz realizes that VMWare cannot afford to go down the same path that Microsoft went, and must continue to add value in the same way he described Microsoft needed to do. In fact, I am hoping that he understands that in order to continue to be competive, VMWare needs to get away from its hypervisor being held close to the vest, and instead open it up to outside development so that they may continue to grow VMWare's ecosystem and add differentiation and value add with their other products, such as Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI).  To combat Hyper-V, Xen and KVM, ESX has to join the Open Source party.

In April of 2007 I was invited to make a presentation at VMWare's TSX conference in Las Vegas to propose that the company do that exact thing. When I was done, the audience applauded, and I was essentially told  by VMWare's management "Neat idea, but we aren't ready and see no need to do so anytime in the future. Thanks for your time, and have this nice T-Shirt as a consolation prize."


I'd be happy to present this idea again, Mr. Maritz.

Should VMWare Open Source ESX Server? Talk Back and let me know.

The postings and opinions on this blog are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Topics: Software, CXO, Hardware, Microsoft, Open Source, Virtualization, VMware, IT Employment


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • I wouldn't necessarily

    call 14-years at Microsoft a bona fides on your ability to run a
    visionary forward-looking company.

    That said, VMWare's response to open source is simple.

    Simply create new stuff. With incredibly rare exceptions, open
    source is consistently a "me too" movement. They'll always be at
    least two steps behind you, so unless you stop moving, they'll
    never be a threat.
    • You can say that about any competition

      Open source or not, if you stand still the competition is going to get you.

      Also if you look at it, most proprietary stuff, with rare exceptions, is "me too" software. The only difference is that the proprietary software proponents will call that "competition".
      Michael Kelly
  • Remember Netscape?

    One suspects the vaunted $28 price tag for Hyper-V is somewhat akin to the 'free' tag attached to Internet Explorer.

    One also suspects that the penetration of Server 2008 is such that any hint of the flagship business OS being threatened will result in a the price for the ever-expanding full suite of M$'$ virtualisation products being: 'included with the OS' whether you want it or not.

    If ESX server is open-source = free ... where are VMware's revenues?
    • On the other hand ...

      ... if all the hypervisors and their attendant management suites become free ... then will I choose to serve:

      1. Basic software via increasingly powerful cloud computing or open source freebies (e.g. Firefox, Open Office)
      2. MyCompanysSoftware via *IX (I have to get out of the VISTA mess so I might as well go to *IX).
      3. Tricky stuff by the few remaining paid for WINDOWS licenses e.g. who mentioned downgraded XP ;-)
      4. Really tricky stuff via the current fat client workstation (soon to be MAC supercomputer with Grand Central and OpenCL?).
  • They need to be scared......

    Just ask Stacker and Netscape, among others, what happens when Microsoft drops their monopoly on you.

    I don't know if anything can be done legally, but it seems that VMWare will be another candidate for extinction unless it can keep ahead of Microsoft technically.
    linux for me
  • As someone ....

    .. who has deployed VMWARE in over 14 instances, I can say the product is stable and works as advertised.

    However, the customer I did this for wanted to buy the workstation version for support and also look at a support contract. For over 6 months we have sent emails, left messages to the customer rep and tried to get someone to respond, but to no avail.

    I guess money -IS- irrelevant to them!

    There are also some issues with the version working correctly with CUSTOMIZED version of Linux and you have to dig to get the answers.
  • I disagree / MS HyperV

    I don't agree that VMWare is dieing. They have been winged yes. But there are not any other solutions that offer the enterprise solutions that they do.

    MS Hyper-V is not a threat IMHO. Because Hyper-V is limited to MS operating systems only. And does not have anywhere near the features or supported OS's that VMWare has.

    The open source ones may get there someday, but not without some real support for enterprises. You can call up VMWare any time you like to get help, you can't do that with an open source version.
    • Not true

      At the moment, Hyper-V is limited to only running SLES 10 as the supported Linux guest. However, the moving of the hypercall adapter source code into the Xen kernel (as it is fully GPLed by MS) will soon allow any Linux guest to run on Hyper-V. They can compile the hypercall adapter specifically for their distro now, but having it built into the Linux Xen kernel will make it a non issue.

      In terms of supported features by Open Source hypervisors, 3rd-party products will fill the gap. Take a look at the PowerRecon and PowerConvert products from Novell. Citrix has a number of things up its sleeve as well. It doesn't have to be a single vendor solution to compete with the VMWare stack.
  • NT

  • Open source is no panacea

    What guarantees opening up can save VmWare then? Come on.
  • RE: VMWare: Time to Pay the Open Source Piper

    I agree. It bothered me that ESX is based on RHEL, so why should it be proprietary? The value add is in Vmotion, VDI, appliances, VM certification and VI, to name a few.
    • A correction

      Actually, that's incorrect. While ESX was originally based on Redhat and utilized the Linux kernel, it has long since been rewritten from the ground up as a proprietary kernel. Only the service console, which is NOT the ESX server, is based on RHEL 3.
      • An incorrect correction

        As the product manager for ESX at the very beginning, I can tell you that you're wrong. ESX was never "based on" Red Hat. It has always had its own proprietary VMkernel, and the Red Hat version -- originally 6.2, now EL 3 -- was always the service console.
        • Thanks

          I appreciate your correction of my incorrect correction...that's good to know.
  • Nothing like being ignorant and opinionated!

    How come if the Open Source threat was so real when Paul Maritz was in the dock (back in 1999 I might add), why does MS still account for nearly 60% of ALL server OS? How come in 2007 IDC said MS took server market share at the expense of Linux?

    Another comparative point is that MS have struggled to compete against Citrix in the Terminal Services space despite them getting the TS licenses along the way anyway!

    If free was always the only point of differentiation, then Linux would be king and Citrix would not have sold any CPS licenses since 2000!
  • RE: VMWare: Time to Pay the Open Source Piper

    As a layman, my understanding of VMWare???s triumph is just opposite to today???s cloud computing. Their core concept was to simulate a given hardware into multiple computing units. But here, cloud computing is more about integrating all given hardware to one giant computing unit. What is Martiz planning to do? VMnoWhere!!! ;-p

    [Saurabh Kaushik]
  • Management is key.

    One thing to not knock VMWare for is their management applications, and the ability of other management suites to deal with VMWare.

    One of the things that Hyper-V and OSS alternatives like Xen/KVM have to deal with is ease of management. They just don't have it yet, and lacking in this arena can be a considerable selling point in favor of VMWare for large heavily-virtualized enterprises.

    Also, do not forget that VMWare is entrenched deeply within many enterprises. Many of these enterprises will not simply jump ship, especially if there is not considerable price savings/ROI.
  • Over-priced

    I don't think it is just Open vs. Closed. It is also just simply over-pricing. I use Parallels, a closed product. I've had too much trouble with qemu and kvm. But I only paid $49 for Parallels. VMWare want a couple hundred bucks for its workstation product. Say what??
  • RE: VMWare: Time to Pay the Open Source Piper

    I have used/tested MS, Zen, and VMware. VMWare is by far the easiest to deploy and manage. This was the selling point for me, as 1 of only 3 people that keep watch over 120+ servers. (30 of which have been moved to the VM world)

    Ture that all tools don't have to come from single vendor, but when it comes to support there is no blame game! I have seen this happen one to manny times; and when you need help now, making several phone calls to multiple support folks just sucks. Not to mention that my end users just don't care they want there stuff working.

    So untill MS, ZEN and whoever else wants to play ball come up with a product and toolset that is as easy to use (and feature rich) VMWare IMHO is the way to go, and by the way the HA/DRS features for disater recovery/prevention have more than paid for itself here.
  • RE: VMWare: Time to Pay the Open Source Piper